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Southern California Close-Ups: Pasadena and environs

The area has its traditions, including Craftsman homes, Old Pasadena and the Rose Bowl, its greenery including Huntington Library, its Asian flare with Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants, and its fun and funky side at Eagle Rock hangouts.

November 27, 2011|By Christopher Reynolds | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
  • The sculpture "Mountain," a 1937 piece by Aristide Maillol, is in the garden of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.
The sculpture "Mountain," a 1937 piece by Aristide Maillol,… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

It's 1922 and nothing much is up in Pasadena. Not among the orange groves, not along the leafy streets. Just as the little old ladies like it.

But wait. Down in the Arroyo Seco, a crew has just started putting up some kind of stadium. On Pepper Street, Mallie Robinson's 3-year-old son may already be showing signs of amazing athleticism. Over at Polytechnic School, a tall 10-year-old named Julia McWilliams is developing the taste and aplomb that will make her America's best-known chef.

That's right, the Rose Bowl, Jackie Robinson and Julia Child all came up in supposedly sleepy Pasadena around the same time, and 90 years later, this remains a useful reminder: This western edge of the San Gabriel Valley and the area near it can fool you. Beyond the stillness at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, behind all those handsome old Craftsman facades, there's no telling what the restless minds and bodies of this valley will come up with next. Earthquake measures. Exploding dumplings.

Begin your own explorations with these 10 micro-itineraries for Pasadena and its environs. This is the 11th installment in our yearlong series of Southern California Close-ups (the others are at We will wind up the year on Christmas with a look at Hollywood.

1. Greene, Greene and greenery

Colorado Street Bridge (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

To see why the Arroyo Seco is so central to the Pasadena state of mind, join the early-morning dog-walkers for some vigorous striding along South Arroyo Boulevard near Arbor Street, where grand old trees tower above grand old houses. On your way in and out, look up at the stylish old U.S. courthouse (125 S. Grand Ave.) and imagine when it was the Vista del Arroyo Hotel or, before that, Emma Bangs' boardinghouse. You won't be able to miss the 1912-13 Colorado Street Bridge, better known among locals as "Suicide Bridge" for reasons you can imagine. Now, for a closer look at Craftsman style — woodsy buildings, art glass, plenty of tile and bricks but no Victorian fussiness — step into the iconic Gamble House (4 Westmoreland Place), designed by Charles and Henry Greene in 1908. It opens for tours four days a week and has a great bookshop in the garage. From nearby sidewalks, you can also see the 1901 Charles Sumner Greene House (368 Arroyo Terrace); the 1906 Cole House (2 Westmoreland Place); the 1909 Hindry House (781 Prospect Blvd.) and Frank Lloyd Wright's 1923 La Miniatura, which looks like a Mayan jungle temple (645 Prospect Crescent).

2. Rodin, Rembrandt, Simon & Co

Norton Simon Museum (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

For a lot of top-notch art in a small place, you can't beat the Norton Simon Museum (411 W. Colorado Blvd.). It begins out front with "The Burghers of Calais," Rodin's 1884 bronze celebration of heroic yet human politicians (yes, you read that right). It continues inside with a murderers' row of European and Asian artists, including Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Hiroshige. Then there's the handsome garden and pond in back. For a salad, sandwich or dessert, zip west across the Colorado Street Bridge to Little Flower Candy Co. (1424 W. Colorado Blvd.). Feeling renewed? Head about a mile east to the Pacific Asia Museum (46 N. Los Robles Ave.) or the Pasadena Museum of California Art (490 E. Union St.), which stand around the corner from each other.

3. Old bricks, national chains, nightly jazz

Colorado Boulevard (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

In Old Pasadena, scads of national chains occupy the historic facades along Colorado Boulevard, and sidewalks are filled with pedestrians day and night. To find homegrown merchants and eateries, check the old brick alleys and side streets or sign onto a Melting Pot Food Tour ( Don't miss the kid-friendly public art in alleys and the courtyard of the One Colorado complex. For more art, see the Armory Center for the Arts (145 N. Raymond Ave.). For dinner and conversation, try Green Street Tavern (69 W. Green St.). For live jazz, Red White + Bluezz Jazz Club (70 S. Raymond Ave.). For a lively meal in a wonderfully transformed train station, duck into La Grande Orange (a.k.a. the LGO Station Café, 260 S. Raymond Ave.), which neighbors a working Metro train stop. Distant Lands (20 S. Raymond Ave.) will sell you travel books, and farther east on Colorado Boulevard, Vroman's (695 E. Colorado Blvd.), which dates to the 1890s, will sell you "Hometown Pasadena" (an excellent guidebook) or just about any other book. The nearby Pasadena Playhouse (revived by bankruptcy reorganization in 2010) stands in an atmospheric 1920s building at 39 S. El Molino Ave. For caffeine and Mexico-boho atmosphere, there's its neighbor, the Zona Rosa Caffe (15 S. El Molino Ave.).

4. The bowl, the market, the path

Rose Bowl (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

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